What are Organophosphates (OP)?

  • Used during Locust Attacks this year– Chlorpyrifos
  • When locusts invaded India, the government was forced to use the most lethal pesticides, organophosphates (OPs),specifically Chlorpyrifos.
  • Ten types of chemicals divided into three categories are recommended to be used for controlling locusts by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • The first category is mycoinsecticide (for instanceMetarhizium acridum). This is of low risk to non-target organisms including birds and reptiles which ingest the treated locusts.
  • The second category is insect growth regulators (like diflubenzuron, teflubenzuron and triflumuron).
  • The OPs should be the last resort, according to the FAO.
  • These are a group of chemicals that were initially developed as human nerve agents during the 1930s and 1940s, to be used by the Nazis during the war. These were later adapted as insecticides.
  • OPs are ubiquitous — a group of pesticides which is rampantly used in agriculture, gardens, pest control in homes and offices. Once OPs are sprayed on food crops, they find their way into the food chain. OPs have been detected in ghee, butter, honey, and soft drinks.
  • OPs have also been known to leach into water bodies close to agricultural fields. This varied exposure from different sources leads to bioaccumulation in our bodies.

Concerns

  • In 2018, Scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition Hyderabad studied urine samples of children for the presence of OPs. They found that urine samples of Hyderabad children contained 10 to 40 times more OPs as compared to children in the US and Europe.
  • Indian children are more prone to the risks of organophosphates exposure.
  • Children are also more vulnerable because their bodies’ natural detoxification systems are immature and hence they are slower in eliminating pesticides from their bodies, compared to adults. The government has done very little here.
  • Close to 40 kinds of OPs are allowed in India. The Verma committee had suggested restricting/withdrawing some of these OPs.
  • However, not much progress has taken place since the committee submitted its report in 2015. Several thousand tonnes of pesticides, including OPs, are sprayed annually.
  • Quite a few of these OPs like monocrotophos, malathion, and chlorpyrifos have been classified as highly to moderately hazardous by the WHO. Many of these are banned or their use severely restricted in several countries, including the US and those in the EU.
  • Several studies have found that OPs are indiscriminately being used in India even on fruits and vegetables for which they have not been approved. The government has not just allowed these chemicals in the country but has not taken any steps to inform the public.
  • Pest control in India is highly disorganized and least regulated; most times, the agencies are not even aware of the constituents in the concoction. This is beside millions of people including pregnant women working on farms and being continually exposed to these pesticides.
  • In India, there is a scarcity of information on the magnitude of both intentional and unintentional poisoning, as well as on the relative importance of different pesticides.
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